In Guatemala, Young Artists Promote Social Justice and Better Health Policies

Advocating for Family Planning Policy

Marlyn Marín

Palladium | Planning, Monitoring, and Evaluation Manager
Edson Martínez, Gandy Barrios, Hayley González, and Jackson Tello.

Edson Martínez, Gandy Barrios, Hayley González, and Jackson Tello. Photo: Laura Sánchez/HEP+



Many children and adolescents in Guatemala work in odd jobs and face difficulties in accessing health services, nutrition, education, and economic opportunities, and they dream of improving their living conditions.

In 2016, Guatemalan civil society networks supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded Health and Education Policy Plus (HEP+) project summoned various groups and youth organizations to come together to create social capital and citizenship from youth. Twenty respondents were selected to participate in a program of capacity building in advocacy, policy dialogue, health, nutrition, and education, as well as other activities oriented to art, public speaking, photography, and drama. During the program, youth participants created sketches, poems, and songs focused on compliance with health, nutrition, and education policies. All these young people became leaders for the advocacy of these rights.

It was then that Jackson Tello wrote and performed “La voz del pueblo” (“The people’s voice”), which addresses the problem of malnutrition and, later, along with Hayley González and Bladimir Martínez, “No supo esperar” (“You couldn’t wait”). Hayley also wrote “Tengo planes” (“I’ve got plans”), which she performs with Linda Pinto. Both songs address teenage pregnancy, the appropriate age for marriage, and access to sexual and reproductive health information.

Edson Martínez, Gandy Barrios, Hayley González, and Jackson Tello.

Edson Martínez, Gandy Barrios, Hayley González, and Jackson Tello. Photo: Laura Sánchez/HEP+



With support from the local networks, HEP+ produced the three video clips in response to a need to raise awareness among the population and promote compliance with policies that encourage the reduction of teenage pregnancies and chronic malnutrition, and prohibit the marriage of minors. Social networks, public events, and national/cable television have helped to disseminate this information.

“I wrote [“You couldn’t wait”] so that parents are aware, so that they can talk to their children and guide them without hesitation,” says Jackson Tello. “I want to be heard by crowds, to help with my music, so that there are no teenage pregnancies.”

The songs have been able to touch hearts: those of young people, decision-makers, community leaders, parents, and the larger population. Inspired by this success, HEP+ and the young artists came up with the idea of supporting other people who wish to get involved in this awareness building with their talent.

Gandy Barrios

Singer-songwriter Gandy Barrios. Photo: Laura Sánchez/HEP+

Thus, on February 20, 2018, within the context of the World Day of Social Justice, HEP+ launched the Network of Young Artists for Social Justice (JAxJS), an organization for young people who promote and advocate for the social, cultural, political, and economic development of Guatemala through artistic expression. Their advocacy actions are aimed at decision-makers. JAxJS promotes the creation and implementation of better public policies in favor of children and youth. The USAID Maternal and Child Survival Program, international cooperation agencies, and private companies have supported JAxJS activities, such as expositions and contests.

Raising Awareness

On February 13, 2019, International Condom Day, the HIV Network of Quetzaltenango invited JAxJS to take part in an information fair to promote the use of condoms as an effective method to prevent sexually transmitted infections, HIV, and adolescent pregnancies. The event took place in the central park of Quetzaltenango, where members of JAxJS helped to distribute brochures and condoms, in addition to raising awareness among visitors.

Then, on February 24, JAxJS members Hayley González and Saudy Sánchez promoted a songwriting and singing contest on Channel 25 Cable TV in the municipality of San Rafael Pie de la Cuesta, San Marcos. Within the context of the civil society advocacy process considering candidates for popular election posts, the topic of the contest is, “I ask my candidate to improve education in my municipality.” This contest followed the example of a singing and musical composition contest coordinated in the fall of 2018 by JAxJS with support from HEP+. 

Linda Pinto and Hayley González

Linda Pinto and Hayley González in the video for the song “Tengo planes” ("I’ve got plans").

JAxJS members are proud to be part of a generation of young people that seeks to improve the living conditions of vulnerable groups through policy dialogue and art.

HEP+ hopes that these new experiences of young people become known in their communities and around the country, encouraging more young people and adults to join in the fight for access to health services, nutrition, and education—thus improving the lives of children and teenagers.

Palladium implements the Health and Education Policy Plus (HEP+) project for USAID. HEP+ is part of the Health Policy Plus (HP+) project implemented by Palladium to strengthen and advance health policy priorities at global, national, and subnational levels. HP+ aims to improve the enabling environment for equitable and sustainable health services, supplies, and delivery systems through policy design, implementation, and financing.